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Rivalry Week: What it means for…

Nick Saban AP

Rivalry Week is at once the best and worst of times for college football fans.

At its best, this extended weekend wrapped around the Thanksgiving holiday offers up a litany of games that mean something beyond conference or BCS implications, giving all fan bases something just as meaty and satisfying: bragging rights and pride, especially when it’s an in-state rival humbled in defeat on the opposing sideline.  At its worst, however, this weekend means that yet another college football season is quickly wrapping up, with just a handful of regular season games remaining to go along with conference championship games and bowls.

There are, though, the obvious implications beyond just bragging rights and pride.  Myriad implications, from conference races to BCS placement to the chase for the 2013 Heisman Trophy.

So, with that as the backdrop, here’s a look at the marquee matchups for Week 14 and the potential implications the outcomes of the games could/would/should have on all fronts.

No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 Auburn
“The Mother of All Iron Bowls” indeed.  The stunning turnaround by Auburn under Gus Malzahn — from 3-9, 0-8 last season to 10-1, 6-1 in 2013 — has nearly overshadowed Alabama’s quest for three straight BCS titles and four in five years .  Who would’ve thought, prior to September, that this year’s version of the Iron Bowl would carry more conference and national weight than Alabama’s games against Texas A&M and LSU combined?  Certainly not anyone who doesn’t end their prayers with “War Damn Eagle!”  Speaking of a Higher Football Power, the last four Iron Bowl winners have gone on to win the BCS championship.

What it means for…
… the SEC: Everything, at least as far as the West is concerned.  It’s a winner-take-all battle, with the victor staking its claim to the divisional title and a spot in the conference championship game against either Missouri or South Carolina.  The Tide would earn a share of the divisional title even with a loss, although, obviously, the head-to-head tiebreaker would go to the Tigers with a win.
… the BCS: An Alabama win keeps the No. 1 Tide on its year-long inside track for one of the two spots in the BCS title game.  Even with a loss, Alabama would be a near-shoe-in for an at-large berth in a BCS bowl, although that wouldn’t be clarified until after the conference championship game.  The same could be said for Auburn, which would get serious consideration for an at-large bid despite an Iron Bowl loss.
… the Heisman: Thanks to the missteps of others in Week 13, AJ McCarron has suddenly vaulted into the No. 2 position behind Florida State’s Jameis Winston in the eyes of both the voters and the oddsmakers.  A strong performance on a national stage would most certainly keep the Tide quarterback toward the top of the conversation and, depending on how the Winston off-field situation plays out, could send him hurtling toward front-runner status.

No. 2 Florida State at Florida
To say that the Sunshine State rivalry has lost some luster for this year’s game would be an understatement.  While Florida State is more than holding up its end of the bargain — nationally-ranked and seemingly predestined for a shot at the crystal — Florida enters the game armed with an embattled head coach and a six-game losing streak that’s the program’s worst since 1979.  The Gators won last year in Tallahassee, although the Seminoles are four-touchdown favorites this year in The Swamp.  While his boss continues to back him, Will Muschamp directing an embarrassing blowout loss in Gainesville could force Jeremy Foley to reconsider that very strident public support.

What it means for…
… the ACC/SEC: Literally nothing for either conference.  FSU has already locked up the Atlantic division’s spot in the ACC championship game, while UF was long ago eliminated from SEC East contention.
… the BCS: For a team that’s outscored its opponents 402-65 the past seven games, this game would appear to be nothing more than a worn-down speed bump on its inexorable march to the BCS title game.  Seemingly the only thing standing between the Seminoles and an early-January date in the Rose Bowl is a win over the Gators as well as an ACC championship game in which they will be prohibitive favorites regardless of which team comes out of the Coastal.
… the Heisman: For Jameis Winston, the Heisman is his for the taking — provided he doesn’t trip over himself the next two weeks and, more importantly, the investigation into an alleged sexual assault doesn’t give him bigger things to worry about than a fumbled trophy.

No. 3 Ohio State at Michigan
Michigan has stumbled through a disappointing season with a 7-4 record that could easily be sub-.500 were it not for a couple of escapes against vastly inferior opponents.  At the other end of the spectrum is Ohio State, riding a nation’s best 23-game winning streak.  In fact, the Buckeyes set a school record last weekend, surpassing the 22-game streak of the 1967-69 squads.  The team that snapped the previous mark?  The 7-2 Wolverines in Ann Arbor, of course.  When it comes to The Game, you just never ever know  — especially when a heavy home underdog is involved.

What it means for…
… the Big Ten: As is the case for the game above this one, absolutely nothing.  Not only have the Buckeyes already clinched the Leaders division, they also already know they will face Legends winner Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game next weekend in Indianapolis.  Thanks to NCAA sanctions last year, OSU will be making its first-ever appearance in the conference title game.
… the BCS: If Ohio State has any shot at a BCS title, they have to hope either Alabama or Florida State loses once the next two weekends.  Outside of the crystal title game, they could also earn an automatic BCS bowl bid with two more wins, or perhaps an at-large bid with a loss in the Big Ten title game.  Either way, their BCS future won’t be decided until next weekend, although it could certainly take a significant at-large hit with a loss this weekend.
… the Heisman: When it comes to the Buckeyes and stiff-armed talk, “what if” is certainly in play.  Braxton Miller entered the 2013 season as the Heisman front-runner, but an injury that cost him a pair of September games knocked him completely off the radar.  Thanks to the stumbles of others, the quarterback is back on at least the periphery of the discussion, although it would take something monumental to once again make the junior a serious contender.  Perhaps Carlos Hyde, he of the three-game suspension to start the year, could make a late push?  Doubtful, but, as the last couple of weeks have shown, anything is possible when it comes to the most prestigious award in college football.

No. 6 Clemson at No. 10 South Carolina
Stated simply, South Carolina has owned this rivalry of late with wins each of the past four years, with none coming by less than 10 points.  Steve Spurrier has Dabo Swinney‘s number and is not shy about letting people know about it, which is part and parcel of why this is such a tremendous non-conference rivalry.

What it means for…
… the ACC/SEC: Clemson’s chances at an Atlantic division title went down in flames in the midst of a 37-point beatdown at the hands of Florida State in mid-October.  If Missouri loses to Texas A&M, South Carolina will represent the East in the SEC championship game.
… the BCS: The Gamecocks’ lone opportunity for a BCS bowl rests in securing the SEC’s automatic bid via a conference championship.  If Florida State does indeed make the BCS title game, the Tigers are primed to replace the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl and insert the 70-33 jokes here.
… the Heisman: You would think that Tajh Boyd would be in the thick of the Heisman conversation.  The Clemson quarterback’s not, and I don’t have a clue as to why.

No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 8 Stanford
While it’s hardly on par with Notre Dame-USC, Notre Dame-Stanford has evolved into quite the entertaining rivalry the past several years.  Of the past nine games played, six have been decided by eight points or less.  The Irish own a 6-3 edge during that span, including an overtime win in South Bend last season en route to the BCS championship game.

What it means for…
… the Pac-12: The North division’s game of hot potato continued — and ultimately ended — last week thanks to Oregon’s lopsided loss to Arizona, handing the division title and a spot in the conference title game to Stanford.  The Cardinal will (likely) travel a week later to South winner Arizona State for a game that will decide the league’s automatic BCS berth.  If the Sun Devils lose to the same Wildcats that dumped the Ducks, the Cardinal would play host.
… the BCS: The Irish have no chance to move into the top-14 of the final BCS rankings necessary to qualify them for an at-large BCS bid.  If the Cardinal entertain any hope of qualifying for a fourth straight BCS bowl, they will need to win the conference; a third loss, whether it be this week or next, would effectively eliminate them from at-large contention.

No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 5 Missouri
One year after Texas A&M exploded onto the SEC scene in wildly-entertaining fashion, the Aggies have been reduced to playing the role of spoiler to a fellow former Big 12 member.  Playing the role of 2012 A&M is Missouri, which enters Week 14 with something the Aggies of a year ago didn’t: an opportunity to claim its first SEC divisional crown.

What it means for…
… the SEC: The conference scenario for Mizzou is very simple and straightforward.  Win, and the Tigers are in the SEC championship game as the East’s representative.  Lose and they’re out, replaced by South Carolina.
… the BCS: With three losses on their current résumé, there’s no need to use “A&M” and “BCS bowl” in the same sentence, unless it’s separated by “won’t be in a.”  Just as it was for its conference scenario, Mizzou’s BCS dreams are very simple and straightforward: win this weekend… win next weekend… and they’re in as the SEC’s automatic bid.  Lose at any point the next two weeks, and the Tigers will (very likely) be sitting outside the BCS window looking in.
… the Heisman: Johnny Manziel made significant repeat strides in the eyes of those who passionately follow the Heisman the last several weeks before a damaging performance against LSU seemingly knocked him out of contention.  Of course, based on how the stiff-armed landscape has drastically shifted the past couple of weeks, a resurgent performance against a high-quality opponent could put the reigning Heisman winner right back in the conversation.

Texas Tech at Texas
No. 9 Baylor at TCU
The most interesting aspect of this pair of games is how Baylor responds to an embarrassing and devastating loss.  In firm control of the Big 12 race entering Week 13 and with a BCS title game appearance a possibility, the Bears’ loss to Oklahoma State all but ruined what was a once-promising season.  A loss to the Cowboys the previous week, oddly enough, also cost Texas control of its own destiny in the conference.

What it means for…
… the Big 12: Here are the scenarios for each of the one-loss teams currently tied atop the Big 12 standings and what they need to happen to claim the conference crown.

  • Oklahoma State: a win over Oklahoma in Bedlam Dec. 7 coming off a bye week, regardless of what Baylor or Texas do and based on head-to-head wins over both.
  • Baylor: an OSU loss, plus wins over TCU and Texas.
  • Texas: an OSU loss, plus wins over Texas Tech and Baylor.

… the BCS: For both Baylor and Texas, their BCS bowl odds are long.  Each needs an Oklahoma State loss in order to claim the Big 12’s automatic berth as neither will be in play for an at-large bid, although there’s an asterisk when it comes to that absolute –there are a couple of scenarios that could get BU in as an at-large, although they are longshots at best and pipe dreams at worst.

No. 24 Duke at North Carolina
Will the shoe fit, or will the clock strike midnight on Duke’s Cinderella season?  The Blue Devils are in the midst of a historic campaign, with nine wins tying the school record set in 1941 and the opportunity to reach double digits for the first time since the program began playing football back in 1922.  They’ve qualified for a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever.  Simply put, Duke is one of the best stories of the 2013 season.  Whether the Blue Devils cap their fairy-tale story with a divisional crown remains to be seen.

What it means for…
… the ACC: If Duke beats North Carolina, which has won five straight after beginning the season 1-5, the Blue Devils will stake their claim to their first-ever ACC Coastal title.  If not?  A five-way tie between Duke (5-2), Virginia Tech (4-3), Miami (4-3), Georgia Tech (5-3) and North Carolina (4-3) is a possibility, although only the first four remain alive in the divisional race.  So, if Duke loses and all Coastal hell breaks loose, here’s what each team would need in order to secure the spot as Florida State’s sacrificial lamb in the ACC championship game.

  • Duke: a win over North Carolina; cannot win the division with a loss.
  • Virginia Tech: a Duke loss, plus a win over Virginia.
  • Miami: a Duke loss, a Virginia Tech loss, plus a win over Pittsburgh.
  • Georgia Tech (ACC slate complete): a Duke loss, a Virginia Tech loss, a Miami loss.

… the BCS: Whichever team survives the Coastal chaos and represents the division in the division in the ACC championship technically has an opportunity to secure an automatic BCS bid.  Realistically, none of the four teams with a chance to win the Coastal has any type of shot at upsetting the Seminoles in Charlotte.

USF at No. 19 UCF
How little respect does UCF get?  The Knights, whose lone loss on the season came by three points to No. 10 South Carolina, are ranked by the coaches three spots behind a one-loss Louisville team that UCF beat on the road.  Obviously the lack of respect for the AAC as a whole is playing a significant role, but it doesn’t change the fact that George O’Leary‘s squad deserves better treatment in the polls than what they’ve been getting.

What it means for…
… the AAC: A win by UCF pushes its conference record to 7-0 and clinches the AAC regardless of what the Knights do a week later against SMU.  Louisville’s conference title hopes remain alive but on life support, with the Cardinals needing two UCF losses as well as a win of their own Dec. 5 at Cincinnati.
… the BCS: The AAC receives an automatic BCS bid, so a conference crown for UCF also means a guaranteed spot at the BCS table, with the chair likely coming in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC foe.

No. 16 Fresno State at San Jose State
This game is all about the scenarios and possibilities, which appear below.

What it means for…
… the MWC: Fresno State has already clinched the West and will represent that division in the MWC championship game.  The Bulldogs will face Utah State for the league title if the Aggies beat Wyoming Saturday, Boise State — based on the head-to-head tiebreaker with USU — if the Broncos beat New Mexico and the Aggies lose.
… the BCS: If Fresno State can win out, they will battle Northern Illinois for what should be the lone BCS bowl berth for a non-automatic qualifying conference member.  In order for a non-AQ to qualify for an at-large bid, it needs to finish in the top-16 of the final BCS rankings and ahead of the lowest-ranked AQ conference winner (No. 19 UCF in this case); the Huskies leapfrogged the Bulldogs in last week’s rankings and are now at No. 14, while Fresno sits at No. 16.  Whichever of those two teams finish ranked higher in the final BCS standings, provided it’s in the top-16 and ahead of (presumably) UCF, will grab the non-AQ berth and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
… the Heisman: Derek Carr is one of the most prolific passers in the country, ranking first in total offense and passing touchdowns and second in passing yards.  Up until this week, however, he’s barely been a part of the Heisman discussion.  Thanks to the shortcomings of others he’s now in the mix, although it should never have taken others tripping up for that to happen.

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Candidates for governor of Florida debate FSU, of course

Jameis Winston

There has been plenty of conversation about Florida State and its handling of the Jameis Winston investigation and so much more. At this point, I am not going to delve into that conversation now, but it is interesting to note just how important the image of Florida State football is in the state of Florida.

On Tuesday night a debate for the governor’s seat in the state of Florida was held between Governor Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, who is challenging Scott for his seat in office. Among the topics that popped up for debate…

Politics and football. What a combo.

Of course, with Florida State being such a huge part of the community, it is fair to question if there are larger concerns that can be addressed by the governor. This is true of any state institution, not just Florida State.

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Tebow just another former college star slamming his former team

Tim Tebow

It’s tough watching Florida Gators football this season. Even former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow thinks so. Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida and still a fan favorite among the Florida faithful, went on radio recently and suggested one of the many problems Florida is battling through right now is a lack of identity and leadership.

“I don’t think that the offense has an identity right now, and I don’t think that they know what they want their identity to be,” Tebow said while on air with 1010 XL in Jacksonville. “One of the biggest problems on the offense is leadership. You need to have something to motivate you, something to give you an edge…they’re not out of the SEC East.”

Tebow is far from the first former player to come out and hammer his former college program. Just this season former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron offered some criticism of Alabama’s performance. At USC, former Trojans running back LenDale White has not held anything back in his critiquing of the current state of the USC program. That even led to him being ejected from the Los Angeles Coliseum this past weekend.

Tebow is a bit different from the McCarron and White cases of course. Tebow is a member fo the media, paid for his opinions on college football. Specifically, Tebow is paid for his commentary on the SEC as a member of the SEC Network. How much insight Tebow actually has into the locker room in Gainesville may be fair to question as a new coaching staff is in place since his last played for the Gators, although when images like this pop up following a dismal performance at home…

… Tebow’s suggestions there is a leadership problem carry some weight. This isn’t even the first time a scene like this played out under Will Muschamp. Remember this, from after the 2013 Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville?

Does Florida have a leadership problem? Maybe. Or maybe this team just is not very good.

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Does the AP poll have an SEC bias?

SEC Football Championship - Florida v Alabama Getty Images

This week’s latest Associated Press top 25 poll features four teams from the SEC in the top five, which has helped to ignite the discussion about a perceived SEC bias from poll voters. Is it legitimate? Looking to defend the integrity of its poll, the AP decided to dig into the numbers to see if there is anything to support the idea of a bias toward the conference that has dominated on the national stage for the better part of the past decade.

With some help from STATS, the AP reviewed the weekly polls from 2009 through 2013. Do SEC teams jump up the rankings faster than schools from the Big Ten or Big 12 or Pac-12 or ACC when they win? Do the SEC schools drop as far as schools form the other conferences do? This is what the AP wanted to find out.

From 2009 through 2013, SEC schools jumped an average of 1.5 spot sin the AP poll following a win. According to the data compiled, SEC schools had the smallest jump up in the AP poll following a win. ACC schools moved up an average of 2.0 spots. The Big Ten saw schools move up an average of 1.9 spots, the Big 12 had an average jump of 18 spots and the Pac-10/Pac-12 jumped an average of 1.6 spots. What is not properly demonstrated here is the minimal gain to be had by teams ranked highly in the AP poll. SEC schools ranked highly in that time span (Alabama, Florida, Auburn for example) never had much room to move up.

But how far are the schools from the SEC dropping? According to the data, SEC schools tend to have a smaller fall in the rankings than schools from all of the power conferences, except for the Pac-12. Pac-12 schools dropped an average of 5.3 spots in the AP poll following a loss. SEC schools dropped an average of 5.5 spots. ACC schools were hit the hardest with a drop of an average 6.6 spots following a loss. The Big Ten and Big 12 each dropped an average of 6.0 spots in the PA poll following a loss.

Midway through the 2014 season the numbers seem to suggest the SEC schools take a harder hit per loss and see a smaller boost following a win. Let’s see how these numbers play out through the end of this season.

The good news this season is the AP poll really does not mean a thing. The College Football Playoff selection committee will have its own ranking, which will begin to be published next week, and the committee will run independently of any existing polling system.

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Big 12 reprimands Baylor SID for Twitter rant

Angry Bird At Computer

Baylor sports information director Heath Nielsen vented some frustrations during Baylor’s road loss to West Virgina on Saturday by taking to Twitter. The Big 12 did not take too kindly to comments made by Nielsen on Twitter, and issued a public reprimand for his social media rant. In addition to a public reprimand, the Big 12 has also issued a $1,000 fine to Nielsen.

“Mr. Nielsen’s public statements via social media, and those of others that were shared on his Twitter account, called into question the integrity and competence of game officials and the Conference’s officiating program,” stated Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “Big 12 administrators are reminded annually that they fall under the same sportsmanship guidelines as our coaches and student-athletes.”

Nielsen issued a public apology in the Big 12’s statement regarding the reaction to his statements.

“I apologize to the Big 12 Conference for having sent and retweeted some tweets last Saturday regarding officiating,” Nielsen said. “It was a regrettable act for someone in my position.”

A quick scan of Nielsen’s timeline looks as though any controversial tweets and retweets have since been taken down, but this one is still funny.

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Heart of Dallas Bowl has a tasty new sponsor

HOD Bowl

The Heart of Dallas Bowl has a brand new bowl sponsor. Zaxby’s, a popular casual restaurant chain found throughout the southeast, has signed on for a four-year sponsorship deal with the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The game, played in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, will be sponsored by Zaxby’s through the 2017 season, and the contract has an option for an extension.

“We are delighted to join with an organization that is fully dedicated to supporting college football, and look forward to expanding the Zaxby’s brand across the nation with the title sponsorship of our bowl game,” said Brant Ringler, Executive Director of the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. “It’s only fitting that the ‘Official Chicken of Sports Fanz’ will be on hand to enhance the experience of our participating teams and football fans that travel to Dallas.”

Zaxby’s, based out of Athens, Georgia, claims there are over 640 stores found in 15 states. This is the first bowl game sponsorship deal the chain has negotiated.

The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl will be played this season on December 26 at 1 p.m. eastern. The game, owned and operated by ESPN, will air — naturally — on ESPN. The game has tie-ins with the Big Ten and Conference USA. Conference USA is 2-0 in the bowl game, first played in 2011. The Big Ten is 0-3.

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Sun Belt offers some alternative sports programming tonight

Terrance Broadway, Elijah McGuire

Word is there is some important sporting event getting started tonight, but we will leave the baseball conversation to our friends over at Hardball Talk. If baseball is not your thing, feel free to tune in to some good old-fashioned Tuesday night Sun Belt Conference action as Louisiana hosts Arkansas State in a battle of Sun Belt unbeaten teams. Both are attempting to keep pace with conference newcomer Georgia Southern.

Georgia Southern is off to a 4-0 start in Sun Belt play, its first season in the conference. We’ll have to wait to see if the new FBS program can keep up that pace in the second half of the year, but it should be noted the Eagles are ineligible to represent the conference in a postseason bowl game. Because this is a transition season for Georgia Southern, it is ineligible for postseason play, although it can be recognized as the Sun Belt conference champion. With that caveat in play, the conference’s top bowl spot should be considered on the line tonight down in Lafayette.

Arkansas State appears to be entering tonight’s Sun Belt match-up on a bit of a hot streak with three straight wins. Among those wins is a victory over Utah State and another against Louisiana-Monroe. Casual viewers just catching Arkansas State for the first time tonight will likely become familiar with quarterback Fredi Knighten, a dual-threat option in the Red Wolves offense. Knighten has passed for seven touchdowns and run for six more. In his past two games, Knighten has accounted for a total of eight touchdowns.

Louisiana’s quarterback, Terrance Broadway, is also one to keep an eye on. As his last night might suggest, he could put on a memorable show. In a victory over Texas State a week ago, Broadway rushed for 101 yards to go with his 225 passing yards in a 34-10 victory on the road.

The winner of this particular match-up has gone on to win the Sun Belt Conference championship each of the past three years. Tonight’s game will be seen on ESPN 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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Utah State loses QB Garretson to wrist surgery

Darell Garretson

This season has not been kind to Utah State quarterbacks. For the second time this season the Aggies are losing a starting quarterback due to injury. Darell Garretson, who had been starting in place of an injured Chuckie Keeton, will undergo wrist surgery. The recovery will keep him off the field for at least a few weeks, and a return before the end of the season is still possible. The timeline for his recovery though, is unconfirmed.

What we do know is Garretson will be out this weekend when Utah State plays UNLV in conference play. Craig Harrison is listed as the starting quarterback for this weekend’s game on the latest Utah State depth chart. Harrison has appeared in two games and completed five of 12 pass attempts for 28 yards. The senior played in eight games last season, completing 47.3 percent of his passes in a similar back-up role behind Keeton and Garretson.

Garretson injured his wrist in Utah State’s loss to Colorado State. He had a sling put on his arm and placed an ice pack on his wrist. Utah State still has six games left to play this season. If Garretson only misses three or four weeks, he would likely be available for the final game or two, depending on how quickly he recovers.

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Devin Gardner shrugs aside social media criticism and racism

Devin Gardner

Twitter is full of anonymous online bullies who feel it is their right to be able to say whatever they want at whomever they want. Athletes may be the most targeted among the Twitterspehere, and it gets ugly time and time again, especially when a player or team is not performing well. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has certainly seen his share of cyberbullying directed at him this season.

“I’ve been called the N-word so many times this year,” Gardner said in a profile story published by The Detroit News. “One guy told me I was the N-word, and said I know N-words can’t play quarterback. And I was like, are we not past this? Say what you want about my skill, but come on.”

Some athletes would shut down their online profiles when they come under such attacks, but Gardner does what he can to block it out. Some players are incapable of brushing off the criticism from Internet tough guys, but fortunately Gardner seems to have the right frame of mind when it comes to this sort of thing. In a sense, it is the way Gardner attempts to play through pain.

“You can’t not feel the pain,” Gardner said. “The thing is, it’s mind over matter. You have to ignore it. Try to ignore it. You can’t compare a sprain to a broken bone, but high-ankle sprains are pretty bad. They hurt pretty bad. The Ohio game was different. This game, too, if I had to run, I would have been able to do it. If I had to, if it was third and seven and they gave me a lane to run, I was going to do it.”

I don’t particularly understand the rationale that defends lobbing Twitter or Facebook insults at others, never mind high school and college athletes. Perhaps there are other ways to relieve tension that builds up watching sports.

Just a thought.

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Elbow injury likely ends season of Beavers starting wideout

Richard Mullaney, Davion Orphey

Unfortunately, the injury to one of Oregon State’s leading receivers was as bad as originally feared.

In the second half of last Thursday night’s double-overtime loss to Utah, Richard Mullaney suffered an elbow injury.  At the time, Mike Riley said the wide receiver would be “out for a while.”

A few days later, the head coach wasn’t nearly as “optimistic” as he was shortly after the loss.

“We’ll be lucky if we get him back before the end of the year,” Riley succinctly stated.

As Mullaney is the most experienced member of OSU’s receiving corps, the loss will be a significant one. And one that the coaching staff isn’t downplaying.

“I think everyone’s disappointed for Mullaney,” the player’s position coach, Brent Brennan, said. “He’s an awesome kid, he’s a good teammate, he’s been a good player.

“So that hurts us and we’re sad for him.”

Through six games, Mullaney is third on the Beavers in receptions (18) and receiving yards (216). With Mullaney out, redshirt freshman Jordan Villamin (6-115-2) will take over as a starting receiver.

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ACC, Notre Dame announce games through 2025

jack swarbrick  john swofford AP

Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame further cemented its relationship with the ACC.

Both the school and the conference announced today the playing dates through the 2025 season, with the release stating that the announcement “formally [seals] the partnership that began this season.” The conference had previously announced games involving members of the league and the Irish through the 2016 season, meaning that this amounts to a nine-year extension of the scheduling arrangement.

“The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford. “Notre Dame not only adds to our league’s already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there’s no question that this partnership is significant.”

In six of the 12 years, Notre Dame will play five ACC schools. Three of the years — 2014, 2022, 2024 — will feature four games, while three other years — 2015, 2019, 2023 — will see six games.

With the exception of Boston College, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, Notre Dame will play each ACC member four times — two at home, two on the road — in the 12-year span. The Irish will face BC, Pitt and Wake on five occasions. Three of the games against the latter will be played in South Bend and three of the games against the Panthers will be played in Pittsburgh, while the 2015 game against the former will be played in historic Fenway Park.

Both of the “home” games for Syracuse will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

“Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules,” said ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a statement. “Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

“On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once.”

Below is the complete scheduling arrangement between the ACC and Notre Dame.

2014
1. Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium), 9/27*
2. North Carolina at Notre Dame, 10/11
3. Notre Dame at Florida State, 10/18
4. Louisville at Notre Dame, 11/22

2015
1. Notre Dame at Virginia, 9/12
2. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 9/19
3. Notre Dame at Clemson, 10/3
4. Notre Dame at Pitt, 11/7
5. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/14
6. Notre Dame vs. Boston College (Fenway Park), 11/21@

2016
1. Duke at Notre Dame, 9/24
2. Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium), 10/1*
3. Notre Dame at NC State, 10/8
4. Miami at Notre Dame, 10/29
5. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/19

2017
1. Notre Dame at Boston College, 9/16
2. Notre Dame at North Carolina, 10/07
3. NC State at Notre Dame, 10/28
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/04
5. Notre Dame at Miami, 11/11

2018
1. Syracuse at Notre Dame, 9/22
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech, 10/13
3. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 10/20
4. Florida State at Notre Dame, 11/10
5. Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 11/17

2019
1. Notre Dame at Louisville, 9/2 (Labor Day)
2. Virginia at Notre Dame, 9/28
3. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, 10/19
4. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/02
5. Notre Dame at Duke, 11/09
6. Boston College at Notre Dame, 11/23

2020
1. Notre Dame at Wake Forest
2. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
3. Duke at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame
5. Louisville at Notre Dame

2021
1. Notre Dame at Florida State, 9/6 (Labor Day)
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech
3. North Carolina at Notre Dame
4. Notre Dame at Virginia
5. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame

2022
1. Notre Dame at North Carolina
2. Notre Dame at Syracuse
3. Boston College at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame

2023
1. Notre Dame at NC State
2. Notre Dame at Duke
3. Notre Dame at Louisville
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame
5. Notre Dame at Clemson
6. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame

2024
1. Miami at Notre Dame
2. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
3. Florida State at Notre Dame
4. Virginia at Notre Dame

2025
1. Notre Dame at Miami
2. NC State at Notre Dame
3. Notre Dame at Boston College
4. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
5. Syracuse at Notre Dame

* – Designated ‘home’ game for Syracuse
@ – Designated ‘home’ game for Notre Dame

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Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead reinstated after four-game sabbatical

Arkansas v Auburn Getty Images

Just a little over a month after being forced to the sidelines, Jermaine Whitehead is back with his teammates.  When he gets back on the field for real game action, though, remains to be seen.

Tuesday morning, Gus Malzahn confirmed that the defensive back has been reinstated to the Auburn football team.  White head began practicing with the team Sunday.

Malzahn declined to say whether Whitehead will play in this Saturday’s game against South Carolina.

“He practiced with the team on Sunday, and he’s going to do everything he can to earn his (place) back on the field,” the head coach said. “I don’t know how long that will take, I don’t have a timetable on it, but we’ll see how that goes.”

Whitehead was indefinitely suspended back in mid-September, reportedly for getting into a verbal altercation with an assistant coach.  The suspension ultimately cost him four games.

Prior to his suspension, Whitehead had started the last 26 games at safety, and is still currently tied for the second on the team in interceptions with two. One of those picks was returned for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas.

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Saban downplays Kiffin’s return to Tennessee

Karma Is A Butch

Almost from the moment Alabama hired Lane Kiffin as its offensive coordinator this past January, Oct. 25 has been circled on many a Rocky Top fan’s calendar.

That’s the day Tennessee will play host to Alabama.  It’s also the day that will mark Kiffin’s return to Neyland Stadium for the first time since unceremoniously dumping the Vols in January of 2010 after one season to take the same job at USC.

As expected, the anticipation for Kiffin’s return to Knoxville is growing.  Just as expected, Kiffin’s boss is downplaying the return.

Saying “it’s only a distraction if you allow it to be a distraction,” Nick Saban tried to shift the focus from his coordinator to the team and the players.

“So if it doesn’t mean anything to us and we can stay focused on what we need to do to do what’s best for our team, then that’s the way you manage it, that’s the way you handle it, that’s the way we need to look at it,” Saban said of the hype surrounding Kiffin’s return. “So it doesn’t really mean anything to us. The game, our players, their players. That’s what means something to us and that’s what should mean something to every coach on our staff.”

Saban’s counterpart is of the same mindset when it comes to Kiffin.

“The game means everything to our football program and our fans because it’s the University of Alabama, not because it’s Lane Kiffin,” UT’s Butch Jones said. “Three-quarters of our team — he’s a great coach, but nobody knows who Lane Kiffin is. That’s for the fans.

“We have to concentrate on the game. We’re playing a great, great opponent, a top-five opponent. They played as inspired of a football game as I’ve seen in a very, very long time against Texas A&M. They’re a great football team.

“They’re a measuring stick for a lot of programs, so again, we have to focus on the task at hand.”

Jones and Saban are both correct. No current UT players were there under Kiffin, so to them it’s just another conference game. No coaches remain either.

The hype when it comes to Kiffin’s return is all about the fans. And politics, as it turns out.

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Video: mascots go B1G in “Shake It Off’ parody

Purdue v Notre Dame

I’ll go ahead and admit it: when I first saw the email from my boss alerting me to this, a very real and visceral cringe overwhelmed me.  As well as a bit of nausea and a little vomit in my mouth.

Then I clicked play and, well, it’s not bad.  In fact, it’s quite good, especially if you are, like me, a teenage girl at heart.

The “it” to which I’m referring is yet another parody video from the fine folks at the Big Ten, this one involving its mascots — with the exception of those from Maryland, Northwestern and Penn State — and Taylor Swift‘s popsy hit single “Shake It Up.”  While it’s not nearly as entertaining as two football players passed out in the drive-thru lane of a fast-food joint, it’s a good way to spend almost four minutes of your time awaiting the end of the work day.

Oh, and it’s also a good way to continue confirming that Purdue Pete is really creepy.

Regardless, enjoy if this is your type of thing…

 

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NCAA: SI’s Okla. St. allegations ‘fundamentally unfounded’

SI OSU Cover

Quite a few people got a chuckle over Sports Illustrated series on the Oklahoma State football program last September, with many — including those intimately connected to the schoolpanning the so-called exposé for containing much more fluff than actual substance.  SI is even being sued by one of the parties mentioned.

A little over a year later, The Association has agreed that there was little or no merit to the series.

In a joint statement released by the NCAA and OSU, and “[a]fter a thorough review by the NCAA Enforcement Staff and an outside consultant hired by Oklahoma State University,” it’s been determined that “allegations of misconduct in the Oklahoma State football program as reported by the media in September 2013 were fundamentally unfounded.” Investigators from both sides “reviewed approximately 50,000 emails and interviewed nearly 100 individuals involved with Oklahoma State’s football program, including current and former coaches, administrators, student-athletes, students and prospects.”

The statement did note that “a few individuals outside the university refused to cooperate.”

In the “exposé,” SI.com alleged that the Cowboys football program had been guilty of committing what would have been numerous major NCAA violations. The allegations included sexual favors for prospective recruits; rampant drug use and abuse; impermissible benefits being paid to players by boosters and coaches; and academic fraud.

Most of the allegations were alleged to have occurred during Les Miles‘ time as OSU head coach.

The joint investigation did uncover three Level II NCAA violations that were unrelated to the SI series. The NCAA defines a Level II violation as a “significant breach of conduct… that provides or are intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage. Level II violations are the second-most severe in the NCAA’s new-ish four-tiered violation system; you can click HERE for the penalty guidelines.

In a statement, OSU president V. Burns Hargis somewhat detailed what resulted in the Level II violations, a designation with which he and the university disagree.

“During the extensive inquiry, a few situations were identified which led to three allegations in a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA where it appears we may have misapplied our drug testing policy and on-campus recruiting practices,” Hargis’ statement read, in part. “While we question whether these matters warrant a Level II designation, as indicated by the Enforcement Staff in the Notice of Allegations, we have modified our policies and practices in these specific matters to ensure compliance. The institution will prepare a response to the allegations and appear before the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions in the near future. The Committee on Infractions will review the positions of the Enforcement Staff and the University on the nature of each allegation. We look forward to our appearance before the Committee on Infractions to present our positions.”

The Oklahoman went into further detail as to the three violations for which the athletic department will be compelled to appear before the COI at an undetermined time.

  • Failure to adequately apply the university’s drug policy on five occasions, out of 94 positive tests involving 60 athletes over a seven-year span, 2007-13. The report issued by Smrt said none of those failures applied to a “multi-year starter” and two of the players left OSU soon after the positive test.
  • The Orange Pride support program was organized through the football program, rather than OSU’s admissions office, which meant it was impermissible for Orange Pride members to talk with prospects or their parents about the university.
  • A charge of failure to monitor, pertaining to the first two allegations.

Mike Gundy was one of a handful of OSU officials to release a statement as well.

“In the aftermath of the Sports Illustrated series, the right thing to do was examine the program,” the head coach stated. “I have attempted to operate our program with integrity and have reinforced to our coaching staff the importance of compliance with NCAA rules. If we had any shortfalls, I wanted to know. While I am pleased, but not surprised, that the claims in Sports Illustrated were fundamentally unfounded, we continue to work with the athletics administration to ensure a clear understanding and application of our policies. From the moment I was chosen to coach my alma mater, I have made decisions to create a NCAA compliant environment, while ensuring student-athlete welfare. I love my players and want them to succeed in life by making good decisions and respecting the rules.”

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Hokies lose Luther Maddy for rest of 2014

Luther Madden, Shane Carden AP

A knee injury and subsequent surgery a month ago was expected to keep Luther Maddy out for 2-4 weeks.  Unfortunately for both the defensive tackle and Virginia Tech, that prognosis was wildly optimistic.

In a tweet posted to his Twitter account Monday night, Maddy revealed that he will need to undergo go yet another surgery on his injured knee.  Because of that, Maddy will miss the remainder of the 2014 season.

One of the lone bright spots in the situation is that, while Maddy is a senior, he has yet to use his redshirt.  “I’ll redshirt this season and play another year at [T]ech,” Maddy wrote on social media.

“You won’t find anybody more focused,” the player added in regards to coming back next year.

Maddy originally suffered the injury in a Sept. 13 loss to East Carolina. He played a week later against Georgia Tech before undergoing the first medical procedure on his knee.

Over the past three-plus years, Maddy has started 33 of the 43 games in which he’s played.  After leading the Hokies with 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries in 2013, Maddy was named third-team All-ACC by the coaches.

In July, Maddy was named preseason first-team All-ACC.

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